Tag Archives: Dembélé

The View From South Texas — Charlton Athletic v. Fulham FC

Victory at the Valley Averted!

Fulham somehow managed to take a match that they were dominating AFTER taking a two-goal lead in the second half and having its supporters greet the final whistle with the distinct feeling that The Whites had stolen a point. A point on the road is always good to have, and who would have been disappointed a month ago with the prospect of sharing the spoils with Charlton Athletic. But the Charlton side that Fulham faced early Sunday morning [0600 South Texas sub-Standard Time] was not the side who opened the Championship campaign with four wins on the trot. They were there ready to be taken, and taken they really should have been.

The first thing that struck me about the match was the sight of bright sunlight on the VERY quick pitch. My only visit to the valley was on a very murky day – it must have been in November – about 40 or so years ago. All I remember was the tallest single stand I’d ever seen, and thinking that everything looked like an old black and white movie. The stand is gone, and if you’d shown me several photos of the new Valley ground, I’d not have recognized anything. One thing from the old days has survived, however, and that’s the size of their pitch. I don’t know if there’s a more expansive one in the Football League.

Charlton’s manager has obviously built his side to take advantage of the spaces. With the pitch slick and alive, Charlton showed early on that their plan was to shoot long passes into open space beyond the final four for speedsters to run on. The match was barely a minute old when such a pass resulted in a Charlton shot going just wide. There followed several other forays, with Fulham’s back four called into action each time.

After the first ten minutes or so, the match turned into a more even affair, and by the half hour, Fulham looked the more dangerous of the two sides. A free kick awarded at least 40 yards from goal was taken by Ross McCormack on the 32nd minute. Despite the distance, he hammered a laser shot directly at Pope who was minding the Athletic goal. It skipped off the turf and Pope pushed it toward the penalty spot. In sped Ryan Tunnicliffe to tuck it away and it was 1-0. There followed several opportunities to extend the lead but hesitancy and clumsiness foiled Christensen and Dembele and the half ended 0-1.

The half time talk certainly dealt with shutting down Athletic’s only attacking weapon, because Fulham’s front line concentrated on closing down their opponents each time they lost the ball. The quick long pass out of defense was just a memory and, for the first 40 minutes of the second half, Fulham bossed the pitch. Ross McCormack’s remarkable goalscoring run continued when Ryan Tunnicliffe found him at the top of the penalty area in the 59th minute. Turn, strike, goal. 0-2.

And that should have been that. Kit Symons obviously thought so, because almost immediately after that goal he pulled off the ineffective Pringle and replaced him with Luke Garbutt – finally fit enough to make the game day squad. This wasn’t a defensive move, either. Garbutt took to Pringle’s wingback role with relish. He looks as if he may well be completely recovered. On the 75th minute, Cauley Woodrow came on for the very frustrated Moussa Dembele. Once again, the French teenager showed spirit, strength, pace, and discipline, but couldn’t convert any of those into either a goal or an assist. Woodrow does what Woodrow does when he comes on late in the match – he bustled about, ran his socks off, had a couple of very good shots go just wide.

And then the roof fell in. One minute after Johnny Jackson came on as a sub, he found himself completely unmarked on a corner – hauntingly familiar, ain’t it – and Charlton had pulled one back. More than that, however, the goal woke up the home supporters and the supporters woke up the players. From this point on, everyone supporting the Whites were looking at the clock and trying to make it go faster. Because of the two goals and the full complement of six substitutes, Referee Linington called for four minutes of stoppage time.  After on-pitch treatment for Jazz Richards after he had cleared another goal threat, four minute expanded to six. With Athletic now hammering the Fulham goal – really for the only time in the match – the equalizer came from Cousins in the FIFTH minute of the 90th.

Gut punch city. I find it hard to fault Fulham’s game plan or the players execution of it for the defeat … er draw. Rather, it was the fact that the lead had five or six good chances to expand further before Jackson came onto the pitch. So in control were Fulham that the score should have been at least 0-4 by the time he arrived. The two Athletic goals were well taken – especially the equalizer – and they were really the only serious incursions into Fulham’s penalty area. Some times you plan well, you adjust well, you play well, and you still feel – well, like you stole a point from a match that you dominated for 80 minutes.

Individually? Well, I’m wondering who will be our left back when we play next. With the international break coming up, there’ll be plenty of time for Garbutt to be ready to play 90. Both showed attacking intent and defended well when called for. Tunnicliffe had an interesting stint – a goal, an assist, and the feeling that he wasn’t really into the match. The biggest disappointment for me was Christensen. LVC has two more matches to make a case for him to stay in the starting XI when Cairney comes back. He certainly did NOT make that case today.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match – well, it really has to be Ross McCormack. He was all over the pitch and Charlton’s defense never had an answer to him. There’s a special mention for Jamie O’Hara. When he left the pitch in the 90th, it was obvious he had given ever ounce and every sinew for the team. I hope he got some oxygen.

Oh, and well done the travelers. I think I heard every song you guys ever sung – loud, proud, and clear all the way over here in the People’s Republic. That, as much as anything else, made getting up early worth it.

The View from South Texas — Fulham v. Blackburn Rovers

by HatterDon

Another Weekend, Another Mixed Bag

For most of the first half, I told myself that if today’s lineup was Fulham’s default starting XI for the rest of the season, I’d be happy with it. Fulham started brightly, striking deep and quick into Blackburn’s unsettled defense with a great example of – dare I say it – direct, long-ball strikes. With Cairney and Pringle playing as out-and-out wingers and with McCormack and Dembele an actual strike pair, quick counters looked to be on all day. When O’Hara and Tunnicliffe got into the mix with excellent short passing, Fulham looked to be a very good side indeed.

And so it was as early as the 4th minute, when Dembele shook off his defender a few yards into the Rovers’ half and headed straight for the goal line. A quick stop and a blind pass to his left was all it took for Fulham’s captain to be one-on-one with Blackburn’s keeper. Ross doesn’t miss these and it was 1-0. From then on throughout most of the first half, Fulham treated the crowd with a great exhibition of passing – short, long, diagonal, flicks, the lot. Especially noteworthy were Jazz Richards’ cross-field inch-perfect arcing deliveries to Ben Pringle. During this portion of the first half, Tunnicliffe gave a great demonstration of the art of box-to-box midfield play.

On the 30th minute, Fulham got the goal they deserved. McCormack was the recipient of another delivery on the left wing and provided a cross that Tom Cairney fired on. It was then deflected to Tunnicliffe who blistered the palms of the very busy Steele. The rebound fell to Dembele who made no mistake burying the ball into the roof of the net for his first Championship goal.

At this point, Fulham could have run rampant, and a third goal didn’t seem out of the question, but some profligate passes and hesitancy in front of goal deprived them of the goal that could have ended the contest before half-time. Most notable was another gorgeous McCormack cross – this time from the right wing – that Dembele met almost on the goal-line. All it needed was a gentle flick, and that’s exactly what Dembele gave it. Unfortunately, it turned out to be too gentle and the result was nothing but hand wringing and disbelief.

It was also at this point that the Rovers began to play. And a funny thing happened on the way to a clean sheet: Blackburn Rovers are NOT a bottom-three team. A series of blistering attacks from both wings resulted in Andy Lonergan being called upon to make some very nice saves and clearances. Still, on the half-time whistle, Fulham were very much in charge.

The second half was, of course, a totally different slice of sausage. It wasn’t so much that Fulham came out hesitant and over-protective of their lead; it was more that Rovers made a tactical substitution that irrevocably turned the match around. Off came the speedy, but serially disappointing Nathan Delfouneso to be replaced by Bengaly Fode-Koita. From that point on, Rovers got more physical. I’m not saying that they played dirty or even negative. Far from it. I’m saying that they made it clear that every Fulham possession was going to be robustly challenged, and each Rovers possession was going to result in an assault on Lonergan’s goal.

This change showed me a lot about Gary Bowyer, Rovers coach. Going from quickness to strength was exactly what was needed on the day. Fulham was always going to “out-football” Rovers, but had little chance in beating them in commitment. Blackburn has a lot of tall, strong defenders and midfielders, and Jordan Rhodes is no Andy Johnson either. Throughout the second half they kept the ball in the air and won almost every challenge. They were very effective at dead-ball situations, not because Fulham defended them poorly, but because they were able to deliver consistently into an area where an aerial contest would result in their favor. And so, for most of the half, they hammered Fulham. Jordan Rhodes had the devil’s own luck, hitting the post more often than a half-drunk corgi. When James Husband was adjudged to have taken him down in the six-yard box, I was doubtful. The replays confirmed what I should have realized all along: only a foul was going to keep Rhodes from heading in that cross.

Once Rhodes converted the penalty, the game got to be lots of fun. Dembele finally demonstrated the fine art of meshing pace and strength, winning several one-on-one battles and nearly tacking on another goal. At the other end, yet another goal-mouth scramble that featured woodwork contact ended when O’Hara provided what television replays showed to be an ACROSS the goal-line clearance. The battle continued until the final whistle – which I actually got to see since I got up at 0600 to watch it live. Had I slept in and watched the recording, I’d have missed the last four or five minutes of activity.

And so Fulham won and moved to 11th in the league table. The new boys were blooded and the fans went home happy – I’m assuming. The Blackburn following must be even more convinced than ever that they don’t deserve their current league position. They are very good in all aspects of the game and, in Rhodes, have a game-changer deluxe.

Fulham? We’ll we’re significantly better than we were at any point last season, and I like our attack more than I have since Jol screwed it up. We played wide, the fullbacks got into the attack, we had two goal poachers up front and O’Hara and Tunnicliffe marshaled the middle nicely. Stearman and Ream looked sound, and Jazz Richards was marvelous all day long. What was disturbing was Mr Hyde replacing Dr. Jekyll in goal about 55 minutes in. Twice Lonergan hit a hard pass upfield directly to a Rovers player, the last time hitting Rhodes in the back so hard that the rebound went into the stand. It could have easily bulged the back of the net. He also punched a clearance directly to Koita which really should have led to a goal.

Over all, though, I am still upbeat about the future. If these guys can play this well in such a short time together, the future looks good for me.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match: Well, with all due respect to Dembele, Cairney, Richards, and McCormack, I’m giving the award to Richard Stearman. He played a quality center half all match and, when we looked as if we were going to be out-muscled in the second half, he was a rock out there. One thing is for sure, if I’m in a crowd and it all kicks off, I was Stearman to be on my side. Welcome to Craven Cottage, Richard!

The View From South Texas — Fulham FC v. Norwich City FA3 Replay

Up for the Cup

Yesterday – yes, I know, not my usual publishing speed – Fulham roasted an all-at-odds Norwich City at half-empty Craven Cottage and sent them down the mine in search of a Canary and out of the FA Cup.

Bouncing back from perhaps the most embarrassing league result in recent memory, Fulham controlled the action almost from the beginning and ran out 3-0 winners. It was much easier than the scoreline indicated. Yes, young Murphy started again and caused Riether some problems early on, but also early on Norwich displayed a tactical flaw. Passes upfield out of defense were tentative and to zone rather than to player. What was needed here was a greedy opponent – preferably a young winger – to capitalize on this weakness. In Alex Kacaniklic, Fulham have such a young winger, and he purloined passes all match. Fulham also showed a desire to press Norwich’s defense and midfield all evening, which made it easier for the Whites to turn toothless City attacks into ruthless Fulham attacks.

Fulham’s first goal combined two wingers, a center mid and a fullback, but was scored by our much maligned striker Darren Bent. Bent’s not the most industrious chap ever to wear the black and white, but he knows what to do with a cross and a distracted defense. Fulham’s second came from the Andrew Johnson playbook. Bent stretched out the defense by going wide, Kacaniklic moved to the right wing further confusing them, and found right winger Ashkan Dejagah racing into the penalty area like an Iranian Clint Dempsey. Two crosses, two easy conversions. What next?

Well, it wasn’t immediately next, but Fulham’s third goal came from a cross hammered into the back of the net by the White’s own special one Iniesta. How sad is it when your leading goalscorer is a central midfielder and you have two proven goalscorers in your striker corps? Pretty sad, but just imagine how poor our season would be if we didn’t have Sidwell out there – match after match – winning the ball, supporting the attack, and converting chances. Yeah, just imagine … we might be playing crap match after match and finding ourselves in the middle of a relegation struggle.

Hey, wait a minute … .

Individually? This match was my first look at Dan Burn. I liked what I saw. I think he’s better than any CB we have on our books and should stay. Yes, I noticed that Hangeland was back, but I also noticed that he was still tentative and slow on the turn. It might be a fitness thing, but I think Fulham supporters are kidding themselves if they believe that they’ll ever see the Hangeland that was the Rock of Defensive Ages.

Generally speaking, starting Special K and Super Iranian made Fulham instantly better. Two attack minded wide players increase the threat of Darren Bent significantly. I’m not all that sure about Karagounis as the protector of the back four, however. Despite the fact that I’ve seen several shouts for him to be man-of-the-match, I though him most responsible for Norwich’s early attacking moves in each half. He dwelt on the ball and conceded possession leading to almost every threat to the Fulham goal. Oh, and speaking of which Stekelenberg was back, and impressed me not at all. I thought Richardson showed why he should be first choice LB, but I haven’t figured out what Rene wants his sides to do yet, so I’m not predicting.

Finally, I was pleased to see Tankovic, Dembele, and Christensen get minutes. The highlight of the match for me was watching Dembele muscle Bassong out of the play and retain possession. I don’t think City’s central defender has had that sort of treatment from many teenagers.

All it all, it was a very good win and round four sends us to darkest Yorkshire to face Sheffield United. If we continue to use youngish players in the Cup, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t continue to look better in that competition than in the league. Or, maybe our leadership triumvirate will see the benefit in using the youth in the league as well. Well, perhaps.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match – With a special salute to Alex Kacaniklic who set the tone of the match early on, the non-existent Shiner Bock keg goes to Steve Sidwell for being an old-fashioned English box-to-box midfielder. Well done you!

Jol be sorry…

We are only a few weeks in to the new season but there are already rumblings of discontent among the terraces at Fulham. What started with a couple of very average performances, despite an away win, was compounded by a distinct lack of transfer activity on deadline day.

How much of that can be attributed to Jol remains to be seen although I suspect it was not the only factor. Khan is shrewd in his spending and it wasn’t surprising that he was unwilling to fund another left back when we already have 3 at the club. Similarly he may have been wary about buying another midfielder when we have an excess of names vying for places, albeit perhaps not the players we want.

On the positive side were it not for a late winner at Newcastle at the weekend then 4 points from 2 away games and a home tie against Arsenal would have been considered a good start. We have regressed slightly from a few years ago but need to continue to be patient with Jol. Defensively we look solid and it’s no coincidence that the area we struggle in has the most new faces, across the midfield and final third.

It will take a few more games for us to find the right balance and consistency but we have the tools at our disposal. Yes Scott Parker is not the same player as Dembele was but who would be in our price range? The same fans who moan about replacing Dembele moaned about replacing Danny Murphy before, yet compliments in finding a player in Parker who does exactly that seem few and far between.

Many will disagree with me on Jol but who do you honestly believe is going to do a better job? The consensus appears to be Gus Poyet although I really can’t see why. We are not a club who can afford to take a chance on a manager who has no Premier League experience, let alone a manager who let’s not forget was dismissed from his last job for improper conduct.

Such is Jol’s reputation that he has managed to bring to the club, alongside Parker, Darren Bent who cited him as a major factor in his decision to join as did Stekelenburg. Who would Poyet be able to attract when compared to our current intake? Critics will say that the money available is what counts but Sanchez had money and only succeeded in turning us into Northern Ireland in the space of 8 months such was his abilities to attract players to the club.

Poyet is yet to be snapped up by any other club which to me speaks volumes. Jol may not be your cup of tea and we may well finish mid table again but I can’t see him getting us relegated. Let’s give him the season and make our decision then. Anyway after he wins the Cup in Brazil Mr Hodgson may fancy another spell at Craven Cottage……

The View from South Texas — Tottenham Hotspur FC v. Fulham FC

by HatterDon

Fulham Steady, Tottenham Unready

Fulham made the short trek to North London today to face the Tottenham side who had demolished them 0-3 earlier in the season. There was little hope that the Southwest London side could get anything from the return fixture. Spurs were at home, in the top four, and their best player – Gareth Bale – did not participate in their midweek Europa League tie. Add to that the fact that Fulham have been a woeful eyesore on the road this season, and the match promised to be the Tottenham walkover that most pundits, including the South Texan writing this report, predicted.

But funny things happen on the way to the final whistle, and many of them occurred at White Hart Lane today. In the first half, Fulham displayed the football that has driven so many of their supporters nuts this season. Each possession featured multiple sideways and backwards passing until, eventually, the ball was surrendered to the team in white. It’s hard to moan about these losses of possession. If your [apparent] game plan is to get from your penalty area to the opponent’s penalty area in no fewer than 27 passes, chances are at least one will go awry. And so it was that Steve Sidwell took Fulham’s first shot in the 41st minute, and arced it a good 40 yards above the crossbar.

While Fulham’s “attack” was sputtering along going nowhere, their defense looked solid almost from the start. Spurs decided to rest Defoe and Lennon – who had niggling injuries – and persist with Adebayor up front despite season-long indifferent form. Bale looked a bit the worse for wear after a challenge, and Assou-Ekotto looked more than out of place in midfield. Dembélé was excellent, but the pieces that made up the Spurs XI didn’t seem to fit. Much of this was down to the consistency of Fulham’s defense. After twice conceding possession in dangerous positions within the first 70 seconds – Karagounis and Riise the culprits – Fulham’s back four settled down well, and were mightily assisted by Karagounis and Sidwell.

It didn’t take the White Hart Lane faithful long to express their frustration. EVERY Spurs pass that went sideways or backwards was greeted by growls of disapproval. I have to wonder how they’d like watching Fulham every week. They’d all be hoarse inside 30 minutes.

The second half looked like more of the same until the always-dangerous Ashkan Dejagah won possession in his own half, managed to slip past Dembélé and then feed Sascha Riether wide on the right. From deep midfield, Dimitar Berbatov streaked upfield with pace I didn’t know he possessed. Cross, calm conversion, and 0-1. Our 3rd shot in the match was our 1st shot on goal and a goal – all in minute 52. Not too shabby. For the next 20 or so minutes, Fulham dominated the pitch. Far from being gored into fighting back, Tottenham had their hands full keeping Fulham from a second. Hangeland, playing on the left wing [!] won a corner and then was presented with a clear header with half the goal to aim at. Somehow, he put it wide, and increased the acid content in my stomach exponentially.

How much were Fulham in charge? Clint Dempsey, who was subbed on at half time – first affected the play guarding Senderos in a succession of Fulham corners about 15 minutes later. Adebayor, despite working very hard, was mastered all day by his man-marker Philippe Senderos. Riether and Riise were tidy on the wings and Hangeland took care of everything else from his goal line to the center circle.

Tottenham did make some inroads, most especially when Jermain Defoe came on after the hour mark, but one brilliant Mark Schwarzer save aside, everything Defoe, Dempsey, Adebayor, and Bale threw at Fulham was meat and drink for an extremely well-organized and disciplined defense. I’ve seen Spurs play many times this season, and I’ve never seen them create so few clear chances.

Do I have quibbles about today’s performance? Of course. It is beginning to appear as if Karagounis actually came to us from the Royal Shakespeare Company. I haven’t witnessed such serial anguish since I saw King Lear. But mostly, I think there’s some kudos to pass along. Dejagah, who can be forgiven for not getting Fulham’s second late in the match, was a massive pain in the ass for everyone in white today. Riether was excellent. Duff did a fine job – especially in defense – and Schwarzer’s late save from Defoe was amazing when you consider how little he had been called upon to do.

HatterDon’s Man of the Match is Philippe Senderos. Part of this award is in recognition of dozens of cool and efficient decisions he made in his own penalty area in pressure situations. Part is in recognition of him marking Adebayor out of the match. And, of course, part is to piss off the huge cohort of Senderos haters who, each week, have less and less reason to despise him so.

Great result today and, given today’s other outcomes, we just might be clean and clear. Well done the lads and, if nobody gets hurt during the international break, it might be fun against QPR in a fortnight’s time.


The View from South Texas — West Ham U v. Fulham FC

by HatterDon

God, That was Ugly

By the time there were 30 minutes on the clock today, my major hope was that we would salvage some of the goal difference we won on opening day. We did … just. The post-Dembélé Era began on the Boleyn ground for a “lunchtime” [read 0645] match against our bogey team. I am confident that we will look better than we did today. I am also confident that West Ham will not.

Their first goal came with barely 50 seconds on the clock. Kevin Nolan made a fortuitous connection with a knock down by the excellent Ricardo Vaz Te and Schwarzer could do nothing but pick the ball out of his net. I say “fortuitous” because Nolan spent the rest of the match swinging and missing at much easier chances. Vaz Te’s combination of speed, skill, and aggression would trouble Fulham’s somewhat panic-stricken defense all day. He was, without a doubt, the best player on the pitch. He had a complete stormer.

Fulham? Not so much. Despite the fact that the back four + Schwarzer were the only unit untouched by injury or transfer, they spent much of the match looking as if they’d only just met in the dressing room. Riise was back from injury, so Fulham were – arguably – stronger in defense than they were at Old Trafford last weekend. However, despite the fact that West Ham is nowhere near Man United in skill or manpower, our defense proved totally ineffective in controlling the newly promoted Hammers.

Their second and third goals were both down to poor marking. Nobody was near Winston Reid when he headed in from a corner 29 minutes in, and Matthew Taylor had the entire postal code to himself when he slammed home the third a few minutes before the interval. In both cases, new boy Andy Carroll was drawing all the attention. Fully four players were marking him for the third. I can’t remember when I last saw Hangeland play so ineffectively. I hope not to see it again this season.

Much of Fulham’s defensive slackness can be attributed to weakness in the midfield. Only Diarra stood out in this area, and he was constantly on the verge of being overrun. West Ham were quick to close down any Fulham player in possession and the only way that Fulham could string together more than three passes was among the defenders and twenty yards deep in their own half. Richardson made his debut and looked okay going forward but was totally ineffective in shielding or covering for Riise. Duff was our entire offense for 45 minutes, but Riether was also left on his own all too often. Steve Sidwell? Well, I thought he was horrible, so I’m saying no more than that.

Petrić and Rodallega were our primary attackers. Petrić looked somewhat lost at sea and it was no surprise when he was sacrificed at half time. Rodallega turned in a good shift and played the entire 90 minutes. I fervently hope that I can make that statement many more times this season. But it was our substitute forward who really caught the eye. Dimitar Berbatov was a lovely combination of artful flicks, turns, and gliding moves. He was, really, the only player in white who remotely troubled West Ham. And their pressure affected him much less than any of our other players. He was the reason that we became a credible attacking force [70 minutes after the opening whistle], and he was the architect of what could easily have been a consolation goal from Rodallega.

All-in-all, the first match after the transfer period was pretty ugly to look at and a disaster of a result. If there’s mitigation it is that it’s ludicrous for the transfer period to end on the day before a match. Of course, there was no reason why we had to sign Richardson or Berbatov on Friday when we had the entire summer to make deals. But the problem wasn’t that we didn’t have time to get our new boys acclimated. The problem is that, since the Tottenham match last Spring, Fulham have lost four key players from our midfield – a midfield that was clearly our major strength and difference-maker last season. Add to that the unavailability of Bryan Ruiz today, and we’re just not good enough without them.

We’ll get better. The midfield will tighten up [Sidwell is not the answer here, by the way], Berbatov will pair nicely with Petrić, and the defense should settle down. We WILL get better, but it will take a while. In the meantime, it’s safe to say that from now until late November, this season is going to resemble the first few months of the last two seasons. Our fondest hope should be that the second half of this season will also resemble those of the last two.

Hatter Don’s Man of the Match goes to Dimitar Berbatov, with honorable mention to Mahamadou Diarra

Back at the Cottage against West Brom next, and it would be nice to bag three points. Count on Berbatov starting. Count on that being a very good thing for Fulham. COYW

The View From South Texas: Fulham FC v. Norwich City

by HatterDon

I forgot that I had some volunterring to do shortly after the second half started, so this is as quick as I was able to get this report up. MAN, it’s nice to be doing match reports again.

Nice Day for a Stroll

Bathed in warm summer sunshine, Fulham fought off that “at the beach” feeling to demolish a very poor Norwich side 5-0. The goals went to Petrić, Duff, Petrić, Kacaniklic, and Sidwell (penalty). Schwarzer enjoyed his 141st Premier League clean sheet, and if he had an easier one, at his age he probably can’t remember it.


How poor were Norwich? Very poor. They were easily bossed around in midfield, toothless in attack, and their chief defensive tactic appeared to be maintaining a high line, and then turning and watching Fulham attackers hare towards goal. If England manager Roy Hodgson came to the Cottage to watch Ruddy and Holt, he certainly went away disappointed. Holt commanded some airspace, but did nothing with it, and Ruddy confirmed the absolute truth of England’s weakness in goal. If he can be capped and considered to be part of England’s future, then England is in serious trouble. I’m sure, by the way, that Hodgson didn’t come to watch Fulham, as there wasn’t an Englishman in sight all day until Sidwell came on – as the third substitute – with about seven minutes left. He didn’t have time to do much, but dispatched his penalty very well.


How good were Fulham? Perhaps the better question would be “how aggressive were Fulham.” Fulham took control of the game shortly after kickoff and maintained that control for 90+ minutes. Diarra, Dembélé, and Ruiz commanded the midfield so well that the back four and Tha Big Aussie had very little to do. I think Mark had to make two saves and, in his only action of the first half, fisted away a high cross. There were several players who caught my eye early and never allowed me to look away from them subsequently. Riise screamed down the left wing more in the first half today than he did in any month last season. His aggression and Special K’s trickiness caused Norwich no end of trouble in protecting their right flank. Ruiz still has good feet and a great pass on him, but he’s added something else this season: he is much quicker and is much more difficult to nudge off the ball. I think it’s fair to say that, based on what we saw today, Fulham will lean very heavily on Ruiz and Diarra – the latter playing as close to a perfect game as I’ve seen in many a moon.


And then there are the new guys. Petrić looks like the complete forward. He holds the ball well, distributes it well, defends very well in the box, nicks the ball smoothly and very much knows where the goal is. He more than earned his brace, and put more into the side than he took out of it. Riether surprised me early on with his pace. He attacks well up the right and his defensive positioning struck me as disciplined and knowledgeable. I think Kelly edges him defensively, but Riether is more of a complete player. Rodallega didn’t get much of a chance to do anything, coming on as he did in the 67th minute, but he didn’t look slow or indecisive, and that’s a good thing.


I was especially pleased to see Pajtim Kasami enter the fray. He didn’t perform as well as the man he replaced, but the man he replaced was Damien Duff, so that’s no shame. Let’s hope he doesn’t get buried again this season. He’s nowhere near the finished product, but he’s getting there. Closer to a finished product is Kacaniklic. He’s a legitimate left winger, a huge upgrade over the very good Kerim Frei, and he’s not afraid to take a crack. I didn’t see anything to criticize in his performance.


So, a good day for a walk in the park turned out to be a walk in the park. As usual, I haven’t read any reports or even looked at the other final scores, but I expect we’ll be top of the league at the end of the weekend. One swallow doesn’t make a summer, and today’s result against the side I figure to finish 20th doesn’t make us a behemoth, but we’ve often struggled or seemed to be happy with a 1-0 at home and a 0-0 on the road against teams like this. Today, we went for the throat from the off, and ripped at it time and again. In the last 7 or 8 seasons, I’ve seen Fulham play “the perfect game” twice in the Premier League – that is (1) making no serious mistakes and (2) everything we tried to do worked. This was true at the Cottage at home to QPR last season. It was true today.


There were entirely too many stellar performances on the pitch today to award a single player man of the match, so Hatter Don’s Man of the Match goes to the man who chose the squad and put the 14 players out on the pitch. Martin Jol; well done that man.